Texas students would have greater freedom to express their religious views on school campuses under a bill passed Saturday by the House and sent to Gov. Rick Perry, who has publicly supported the measure.Under the legislation, religious beliefs expressed in homework, artwork and other assignments would be judged by traditional academic standards. Students couldn’t be penalized or rewarded because of the religious content of their work.
Supporters say the bill is needed to protect students from censorship and school districts from lawsuits. But opponents argue it will lead to religious discrimination among students.
“We are allowing our young people to express their faith, whatever that faith is,” said state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman.
At an April news conference, Perry was surrounded by children and parents who said their religious speech was quashed at public school. Supporters of the bill have cited examples of students being prohibited from wishing troops overseas a “Merry Christmas” or told they couldn’t distribute religious bracelets at recess.
The House had amended the bill to say the religious expression or speech could not discriminate against someone else’s race, age, sexual preference or religious beliefs.
The Senate took that amendment out, and the House voted to approve the Senate version of the bill.
Critics say it is an unconstitutional effort to encourage religion over nonreligion in the state’s public schools.